Art Business News recently caught up with Garret Nathan, an enterprising entrepreneur on a mission to use art as a means of inspiration for cleaning our country’s beaches. We wanted to know more and asked him a few questions in the following interview.
Please introduce yourself and your organization. Who you are and what is your organization’s vision?
My name is Garret Nathan, I’m the founder of the Better Days Foundation, a Florida based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting environmental sustainability. Our mission is twofold: to inspire and empower individuals to take action and make a positive impact on the environment, and to lead the way in organizing community beach cleanups to address the problem of plastic pollution.
The first is to inspire, empower, and educate. Our motto, “Be the Spark,” encapsulates our belief that every person has the power to make a difference. By educating the public about the dangers of littering and plastic debris on beaches and in oceans, and by encouraging small, everyday actions like picking up trash while enjoying a day at the beach, we aim to inspire individuals to take ownership of their impact on the environment.
Second, through our community beach cleanups, we demonstrate the power of collective action. By bringing people together to work towards a common goal, we can clean hundreds of miles of Florida’s beaches in just a few hours. The money raised through our charity event will be used to continue organizing these cleanups and educating the public about the dangers of plastic pollution. Join us in our mission to “Be the Spark” and create real, tangible change for the environment.
What is your background?
After college I started throwing parties in South Florida, as a DJ and Producer. Most of these were raves where I was able to play and get exposure for my music. I ended up throwing some big events and even headlining a few parties but felt like something was missing. It was right around that time that I met a person who became a very close friend that was throwing charity concerts. I ended up helping him produce a few events that benefited different charities and was hooked. I felt that if I had the ability to organize and throw events, I should start to help charities and organizations raise money to help them continue their missions. And I did, but eventually stopped as more profitable opportunities came up but always knew I would eventually get back to it.
Tell us about your work philosophy.
I have always worked fifteen or more hours a day. Working in event production and the crazy hours required allows me to carry that drive to what I do now. I am a firm believer that hard work pays off and I feel like the Better Days Foundation is the perfect example. In three years with almost no budget, we have cleaned over 550 miles of beaches, removing over 30,000 pounds of garbage. I am now going to be part of Artexpo New York, one of the most prestigious art events in the world, doing an article for Art Business News, one of the most respected art magazines in the world, and speaking at some incredible conferences. If I’m dreaming don’t wake me.
I am the only one in my foundation, I do everything from creating graphics to cold calling companies to see if they would like to participate in upcoming events. I haven’t taken a paycheck in three years as we haven’t made enough money to do so. As a start-up business, especially a charity foundation, it has taken a while begin to gain the traction to sell sponsorships and receive donations. I have made some serious sacrifices because I feel the work we are doing will help save our planet. I love what I do. I wake up every morning and say to myself, “Let’s save the planet today” and that’s what I do.
How did the Better Days Foundation get started?
In 2017, I was not doing well. I had hurt my back and had been out of work for months. My car had stopped working and without the money to fix it, I sold it for scrap and was living in a hotel. I was in a very dark place but remembered the joy I got from helping charities in the past. With Christmas coming up and myself having never had the best holidays, I wanted to help sick kids in a local hospital by collecting toys for them. So, I rented a car and began my mission.
What I thought would happen was I could go around in a week, get as many businesses as possible to put a box in their store to collect toys, then be done with the rental car and return it until I needed it to collect the toys a few weeks later. I figured that every store must have a box they could use, I would email them a flyer to put on the box and start advertising. In reality, they didn’t have boxes available and it would be all up to me. I rented a car for several weeks as I identified toy drop locations, collected and decorated boxes, delivered the boxes, and collected the toys and dropped them off at the hospital. But the feeling I got from dropping those toys off at the hospital was worth the struggle and the Better Days Foundation was born.
I continued with the toy drives until 2019 when the pandemic hit, and I lost my job. I was receiving the pandemic unemployment benefits and thought if I’m not working, I should do something positive with the time I had on my hands. I live close to the beach and saw how bad the problem of pollution was. It was also right around this time that scientists discovered micro-plastics in a mother’s placenta and made the announcement that each of us has about a credit card’s worth of plastic in our bodies. I figured this was a problem that I could help solve.
To make an Impact on a global problem, it would have to be something big. Local cleanups have been amazing. We run more than twelve local cleanups a year but they don’t do much to inspire change as there is almost no coverage, publicity, or marketing for them. Our cleanups didn’t do much to inspire others to join nor did they result in the global impact I wanted to create. My idea of breaking a world record for longest consecutive cleanup was born.
The longest cleanup to that point was approximately 15 miles so my goal was to achieve 16 miles. The plan was to set up a large enough cleanup area that just speaking about it attracted attention while giving the best opportunity to break the record. The original attempted cleanup area was 110 miles of Florida’s shore, from Hobe Sound to Virginia Key. I broke the beach down into half mile segments, assigning every half mile a check point number. The idea was that volunteers can simply pick a checkpoint close to their homes and by walking a half mile the day of the event, picking up plastic and garbage as they went. In a few hours, we could potentially clean 110 miles of Florida’s coastline, showing how even the small act of walking a half mile picking up some debris can add up when an entire community comes together.
But there was one huge problem. The day I chose was conceivably one of the worst days to hold a cleanup: December 19, five days before Christmas. Not only had I decided to break a world record cleanup in the middle of a generational pandemic with stores and businesses closed everywhere, and jobs shut down, but I chose to do it the last weekend before Christmas.
My thoughts went from visions of grandeur to hoping to at least clean a few miles and having a nice base for planning the next cleanup. We not only broke the record with almost 25 consecutive miles cleaned and a total of almost 43 miles, I learned a valuable lesson that day. People want to help; they just don’t know how. Even in the middle of a generational pandemic five days before Christmas, we had over 400 volunteers take time out of their days to help us clean our beaches and the motto of the Better Days Foundation was realized — “Be the Spark.” From then on, my goal and the goal of my Foundation has been just that, to inspire change throughout the world.
To date we have cleaned over 550 miles removing over 30,000 pounds of garbage and have expanded our projects in the hopes of “Being the Spark of Change” around the world. Using art and technology, our goal is to continue to inspire change by Being the Spark.
What are some of your current projects?
We are planning to clean over 900 miles and collect over 35,000 pounds of harmful debris during our cleanups this year. We are also creating an incredible series of events centered around our cleanups, powered by the latest in cutting-edge technology. This includes an awe-inspiring first of its kind series of environmental mural installations with an augmented reality twist.
These murals will bring more awareness to the ocean and how pollution directly affects us by creating a first-of-its-kind Mural Project with an Augmented Reality twist creating a Walkable Art Gallery throughout our community using sewer drains and the surrounding sidewalk as our canvas. These drainage ditches have no filtration on them and any garbage on the street is flushed directly into our oceans. The murals will help create awareness. Some of the drains will begin to have an augmented reality layer, coming to life with incredible animations when scanned with a phone.
Art is powerful, the smallest piece can be the loudest. Art can speak to thousands a day for thousands of years in every conceivable language without saying a word. The Better Days Foundation is harnessing the power of art using cutting-edge technology to Be the Spark to create global change with a series of charity art auctions. We are curating an incredible collection of art, both physical and digital, created by an amazing collection of artists from around the world. All the works will be auctioned at our charity art auctions.
We are also inviting our artists to select a secondary charity where they live, and the Better Days Foundation will donate 50% of the profits from the sale of their work to the that charity. We will organize the auctions and incur all of the related costs for the event, going back to our motto, Be The Spark. Our goal is to help create global change and by funding other organizations also doing incredible things around the world, we can help achieve this. We will use these events as our first series of virtual events — using virtual reality and the metaverse to allow anyone anywhere in the world to view our pieces and participate in the auction.
Additionally, we are creating an incredible series of NFTs, highlighting the pollution we find in the ocean as well as the digital Art pieces created by our Artists. All the profits from the NFT sales and all our physical art pieces go to funding our projects.
We are creating the Better Days Foundation’s token economy and the tokenization of our beach cleanups. This revolutionary concept will allow our volunteers to earn crypto-currency tokens that can be used at businesses and restaurants throughout the cleanup area to pay for their purchases. These tokens can only be earned through volunteer activities and will allow businesses to sponsor our project by creating a token within our economy with its own unique features. Each token will be uniquely designed creating stunning pieces that the volunteers can spend, hold onto in the hopes they will increase in value while using the special benefits each token holds, or sell them allowing our volunteers to monetize their efforts to Be the Spark and help inspire change around the world.
The creation of our plastic credits, similar to carbon credits but based on our cleanup activities, will allow us to reduce our carbon footprint and allow the Better Days Foundation and other organizations to monetize their cleanup efforts and help fund their projects.
How have artists and art been involved with your organization?
Without art and the incredible artists I have the privilege to work with, I don’t think we would be able to get our message out and certainly not be able to connect with people from around the world as I have been able to do. With artists, their work, and their desire to help save our planet and create change where they live, it is through their creations we can Be the Spark of change while creating a global impact. Their generosity will help allow us to continue our mission to save our planet.
What is the best advice you’ve received?
The best advice I’ve ever received wasn’t from a single individual but something I’ve heard and read about countless times from individuals that went from having nothing to creating something successful. “Never give up.” No matter how hard it gets, no matter how much you may be suffering, never quit! All the accounts from founders of incredible companies that started out living out of their cars or living and working out of a garage or a basement. They weren’t worried about what others thought or what they were sacrificing because they so deeply believed in themselves and their projects and wouldn’t quit because they knew in their hearts it would work.
I still remember the first time I saw the picture that showed where ten of the most successful companies in the world started out, companies like Google, Harley, Mattel, and Disney. It highlighted how hard work and sacrifice can pay off without saying a word, simply pictures of the garages they started in with the name of the company that had been created there, like the phrase “never give up” that image always stuck with me, and even in some of the hardest times, I would think about that picture. It still keeps me pushing to succeed in our goal to help save our planet.
Where can we find you when you’re not working?
As the founder and sole employee of a foundation running over fifteen cleanups, running nine projects, and organizing the more than twenty events we’re attending this year, I don’t have much free time. I sneak out to the beach three or maybe four times a week for a quick beach cleanup, most of the time alone. It’s an amazing way to completely zone out, my sole focus being to clean the beach. It really is my happy place. People say if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. I think you can add a line to that phrase, “If you find what it is you truly love to do, you do it all the time.”
What does partnering with Redwood and Artexpo New York mean to you?
This is such an incredible honor; I have had an ear to ear smile all week. The phrase if I’m dreaming don’t wake me up comes to mind. Working with one of the most prestigious companies in the art community, being a part of one of the most prestigious art fairs in the world is crazy to even think about, there’s such an amazing feeling of validation. In three years, we have gone from wondering about anyone even showing up for the first cleanup to real recognition. To this point we have not received much exposure for the incredible work our volunteers have accomplished, the work my foundation is doing, or the projects we are working on. For the first time, thanks to Redwood Art Group and the opportunity to be a part of Artexpo New York, we finally get to step into the spotlight and tell our story. With your help through the power of art we can raise more awareness for the Better Days Foundation and the environmental problem we are facing while cleaning more of our environment. And this makes Redwood Art Group and Artexpo New York the spark of change.
About Garret Nathan: Garret has extensive experience organizing large outdoor events. He believes using a more earth friendly approach to wellness and living in harmony with our planet are paramount to a sustainable future. He is the founder of Better Days Foundation.